By Beckett Mufson — Jul 1 2014
Congestion and pollution are two widely-known evils that come with post-Industrial urbanization. Futurists like Elon Musk—founder of the Tesla electric car company—have presented possible solutions to the smog and CO2 saturating the air, but eco-friendly vehicles still saturate roads around the globe. SkyTran, a futuristic California transit company and NASA partner, believes it can solve the problems modern commuter culture faces in one fell, magnetic swoop:
SkyTran is a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system originally conceived by aerospace engineer Douglas Malewecki. This means that rather than including crowded subway cars—looking at you NYC L train—it will carry passengers in personal, rocket-powered bubble pods.
Its main infrastructural component is a series of elevated monorails, which the site claims are silent and eco-friendly. These rails will support the bubble pods using the same crazy futuristic MagLev technology that China has been implementing in its Super-Maglev rail system.
he pods can be ordered through a smartphone app, and will pick up and drop off travelers along the rail’s route. In its concept video, SkyTram says that this system will integrate into quiet neighborhoods and urban areas in a way that ends the “vicious cycle of grow, build, crowd, followed by grow more, build more, crowd more.”
SkyTran’s first customer is the company’s partner, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), which will be building a demonstrative MagLev monorail on its campus in Tel Aviv. There, the world see whether or not SkyTran CEO Jerry Sanders can back up his ambitious claims about efficiency.
The current model reaches a meager 45 miles per hour, obviously not creating any competition for the highway speeds of the cars the company seeks to replace. And despite the measure of freedom SkyTran’s personal pods grant, they’ll still be restricted to the monorail’s route, which roaming enthusiasts won’t appreciate. Also, local lawmakers may not see value in replacing the current public transit system with an entirely new infrastructure.
On the other hand, if the technology overcomes these limitations and all goes according to SkyTran’s plan, we may see the Jetsons-like pods zooming in and out of buildings sooner than we think. Hopefully it doesn’t turn out anything like the titular train in The Simpsons episode, “Marge vs. The Monorail.”
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